Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Monday, 9 March 2015

Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig

Synopsis from goodreads:

I want life.

I want to read it and write it and feel it and live it.

I want, for as much of the time as possible in this blink-of-an-eye existence we have, to feel all that can be felt.

I hate depression. I am scared of it. Terrified, in fact. But at the same time, it has made me who I am. And if - for me - it is the price of feeling life, it's a price always worth paying

Reasons to Stay Alive is about making the most of your time on earth. In the western world the suicide rate is highest amongst men under the age of 35. Matt Haig could have added to that statistic when, aged 24, he found himself staring at a cliff-edge about to jump off. This is the story of why he didn't, how he recovered and learned to live with anxiety and depression. It's also an upbeat, joyous and very funny exploration of how live better, love better, read better and feel more. 

Published by Canongate


'When you are depressed you feel alone, and that no one is going through quite what you are going through. You are so scared of appearing in any way mad you internalise everything, and you are so scared that people will alienate you further you clam up and don't speak about it, which is a shame, as speaking about it helps. Words - spoken or written - are what connect us to the world, and so speaking about it to people, and writing about this stuff, helps connect us to each other, and to our true selves.'

I read Reasons to Stay Alive the same day it arrived in the post. 

I'd been looking forward so much to this book arriving.
Actually, both looking forward to it, and a bit trepidatious about reading it. 
For one thing, I thought, if I don't read it straight away, I might put it off and become more and more scared about starting it. So I opened the cover and just read it. 

It's not always easy to comment about something that deals with subject matter which relates very personally to you. 
But I want to try, because if ever there was an important book it's this one. 
Because, speaking from experience, depression can be an isolating, frightening, misunderstood illness, and if there's anything that's able to help with a sufferer feeling a bit less alone and bit more understood, then that 'thing', be it a book, a film, whatever, is worth shouting about. 

Words I would use to describe this book, for someone who doesn't want to read or can't manage to read a big long review just now, (based on my experience of desperately wanting to understand more about this illness but recoiling at the detail in some books that I just couldn't cope with on my own at times when struggling):

kind, understanding, honest, helpful, warm, positive, open, important, cheering, supportive, encouraging, straightforward, a friend.

This book helps because it grasps what depression is like, how it can take over your life and make you feel like you are not yourself anymore, the depression is you. How can the book do this with so much insight and comprehension? Because the writer has been there and knows.

Author Matt Haig describes his own personal experiences with depression and anxiety, the worst and lowest point he found himself at, what he has done to try and get better, how he has found ways that sometimes help him, and the things that he wants to live for. 

It was wonderful to read of how books, and then starting to write, have been so important in helping Matt. He recommends here some of the books that he read when he felt unwell. I find solace myself through reading as much as I am able to, and still want to try writing one day, so it was encouraging to read how these things helped the author.

He also discusses some of what he has learnt about the illness; I found the mentions of evolutionary psychology interesting and maybe one day I'll read more about this - has the world moved on too fast for our minds? I think that was the sort of idea, if I've grasped it correctly. 

The book informs, or reminds us, depending on your knowledge, that there is still a huge amount that is unknown about this illness:

'The more you research the science of depression, the more you realise it is still more characterised by what we don't know that what we do. It is 90 per cent mystery.'

In terms of my thoughts about the book, all I can say is what the book did for me, as I was reading it, and after I had finished. I hope that this is helpful.
For someone struggling with depression (and anxiety), this book could make a difference to you in these ways - these are some of the things I thought and felt about it as I read:

It will help me

It will help someone who loves me

It's kind and understanding and honest

It's easy to read, and well presented, decent sized decently spaced print and a manageable length, something that can't be underestimated when you're depressed

It's open and honest and it shows me that there is a chance to get through each day

It shows that I are not alone in thinking awful things, in thinking I might never feel better, and it understands - this is huge - it understands that sometimes doing the tiniest smallest things are terrifying, and they are major accomplishments. In particular I'm thinking of the part about going to the shop on your own when you are very low. 

It understands the battle to try and hold on to a positive thought. 

It offers me reasons to be hopeful, to be strong, and ways to look at things differently, positively.

I feel like someone else in the world understands me now. I feel a bit less alone, a bit less scared, a bit less guilty and anxious and burdened. 

It helps you understand that everyone's experience of depression differs, that there is no one size fits all approach or answer to it, but it offers things to try that have worked for the author.

Just to reiterate one of my feelings about it mentioned above - I think it will be helpful to read for someone who loves you and is trying to help you with this illness, to help them see it from the inside as well as the outside, it offers some clarity and insight that a person really suffering might not be able to put into words very well for themselves, - how do you explain depression? - and it will help them to encourage their loved one that they are not the only one who feels depressed like they do (a common feeling). 

There's a couple of pages headed up 'Things depression says to you'. I nodded at it all so I marked the whole pages. Things like...
'Why are you trying to apply for a job? Who do you think you are?.....
Why are you crying?
Because you need to put the washing on?
Look at the people walking outside....
Why can't you be like them?'
Those pages alone really helped me feel a relief that somone understood. And they might just help others without experience of it to gain insight. And to me, both of these things, the compassion given to sufferers and the understanding given to others, breaking down stigma, are really, really important. 

Many other words that struck a chord as I was reading, here's a couple of them: 

'...the sheer exhaustion of never being able to find mental comfort. Of every positive thought reaching a cul-de-sac before it starts.' 

'days contained thousands of tiny battles'

There are so many sentences I will revisit and re-read, that struck a chord with me and had me nodding in agreement, thinking 'yes, that!', or passages that had me in tears, or sections that felt like a comfort, like a virtual hand holding mine or a virtual friend offering understanding and kindness, and I think and hope I will be able to find encouragement in this book in any future times that I might need it.

It was great to see the quote from Stephen Fry on the book's cover, someone else in the public eye whom I like and admire for breaking down stigma surrounding mental illness.

I hope these thoughts have made some sense and it's not all too incoherent I just felt this was a brilliant book and I had to write about it.

Thank you Matt Haig for being brave enough to look back on his memories and experiences and write this book, thank you to the publisher Canongate for bringing it to us. 


  1. <3 since a feeling review Lynz, I am glad it had what I believe is the intended effect Haig wanted. I really need to get a copy of this to be honest. Sending much love mwah


  2. Hello Lindsay, I’ve only been afflicted with depression once in my life (thank goodness), but it was a bitch! In my case, it was Postnatal depression, which went on to be something much worse. I spent more than a year on anti depressants, sleeping pills and all kinds of other pills and potions. Looking back on it now (more than 40 years later) I realise I missed out completely on the first year of my son’s life. I have no recollection of him as a baby as I was so ‘out of it’. If I felt even a fraction of what other people go through, then my heart goes out to them. I must read this book. Barbara.

    1. Thanks for your honest comment Barbara.

  3. Glad this proved to be such an insightful read. I always think books like this can be a real help if written with knowledge.

    1. Thanks Tracy. Definitely can be a help.

  4. This is a book I would've stayed away from just based off the subject matter but I'm having second thoughts after reading your review. While I thankfully do not struggle with depression my husband has that in his family history. This sounds like it would help me understand how to help. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I think it could do that for people Katherine. Thanks for you comment :)

  5. What a wonderful testimonial for a book. Thank you for being brave, open and honest.

  6. I was interested to read this book before, now I really want to read it. Thank you for such a thoughtful review

    1. Thank you for your kind comment Lucy, and I hope you get chance to read it.

  7. Thanks for sharing this book on an important topic that affects so many individuals and families.

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment Catherine.

  8. Thanks, Lindsay, for such an honest review. I first suffered with PND after the birth of my second child, but I've never felt 100% better - and she's 20! I'm still in on anti-depressants, albeit at a low dose. One thing I've learnt is to try and deal with the things that are niggling at me - if I'm stressed because I haven't done all the dishes, I do them - even if I have to force myself. Ultimately it makes me feel much better. But there have been times when even doing that would be too much, so I guess things have got better! Interesting Matt says we don't know 90% of what there is to know about depression - it's not something people raise funds for is it? Yet it is as big a killer, indirectly, as any of the diseases people run marathons for!

    1. Thanks very much for your comment Linda and for sharing your experience and understanding of this illness. I really appreciate your words. I understand your words about the dishes. I think some people do raise funds but not perhaps to the extent of other illnesses, sadly.

  9. This is an excellent review, Lindsay - thank you! I have a family member suffering from depression and plan to get a copy of this book straight away.

    1. Thanks for your kind comment JoAnn and I hope your family member feels better soon and that the book may help.

  10. What a brilliant review of what must have been a challenging book to read since it relates to your experiences. Thank you for sharing with us all.

    1. Thanks very much for your lovely comment Cleo, much appreciated.

  11. Like you, this is a book I am a little afraid of reading, but also think I will benefit from reading. Thank you for such an encouraging review - and, as you have done, I can read bits and pieces of it when I am ready.

    1. Thank you for the kind comment Marina, and I hope if and when you read it, it helps you too.

  12. This sounds like a really important book.

    I think that you wrote something very important when you emphasized just how important it is for an individual to know that they are not alone and that others are concerned with this issue.

    Of course this work seems valuable in a lot of ways.

    This was a superb post Lindsay.

    1. Thank you for your very kind comment Brian, much appreciated.

  13. I love that first passage you shared, about needing to speak or write about your feelings. I'm one of those who tends to keep my negative emotions inside, and it's something I am constantly struggling with. I grew up being told to "get over it" and "suck it up"--and that became my default. I would tell myself I can't be sad or angry. I would feel guilty when I did. I sometimes still do, but it's gotten better. I'm working on it. :-)

    Anyway, this book sounds like it was a good fit for you. I know how difficult it can be to share something so personal, and I am glad you did. I think it's important we talk about issues like this. More of us have them than we realize and it's good to know we are not alone. I will have to look for this book.

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment Wendy and for sharing your thoughts about this. I'm glad you feel it's good to talk about these issues too.

  14. Hi Lindsay,

    I don't think I am quite ready to read a book like this yet, although I know that I should. I certainly couldn't even contemplate being as brave as yourself and reading it all through in one go!

    I have felt myself sinking further and further into depression for some time now, although I still have my head far enough above water to know that I need to do something very soon, before it is just too late!

    I read as much of your thoughtful and balanced review as I could, although I may come back to this post again at a later date and see if I can get through it all without it becoming all too much.

    Thanks you for sharing your thoughts and introducing me to the book :)


    1. Thank you for your comment Yvonne and for sharing your feelings. I'm really sorry to hear that you have been feeling like this. Take care of yourself and please do ask for some help if you need it. x

  15. Wow, what an important book. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. We gain so much by talking about our experiences with depression and bringing them out into the light.

    1. Thanks for your comment Lindsey much appreciated.

  16. Thanks for sharing this, I am looking for a new read and this might just be it.

  17. Great post mate, thank you for the valuable and useful information. Keep up the good work! FYI, please check these depression, stress and anxiety related articles:

    20 Ways to calm your mind – How to calm your mind

    22 Ways To Become More Positive – How To Become Positive

    25 Ways To Forget Unwanted Memories – How to Forget a Bad Memory

    Top 25 Ways To Reduce Stress – How To Reduce Stress

    21 Ways To Get Rid Of Anger – How To Get Rid Of Anger

    How to Know When Depression Is Serious

    21 Ways To Get Rid Of Anger – Alcohol and Depression

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